Volume 96, Issue 59
Wednesday, January 15, 2003

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Liotta gains 35 lbs. and Academy nods

By Brent Carpenter
Gazette Staff

Directed by: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Jason Patric, Ray Liotta, Chi McBride, Busta Rhymes

Gazette file photo
YOU COULD CUT THE TENSION WITH A KNIFE. Oak (Ray Liotta) and Tellis (Jason Patric) face off in Narc.
For all its stylish camera work and graphic imagery, Narc is as formulaic as cop flicks come.

Still, it is a welcome and sorely needed addition to a genre, which, over the years, has been reduced to a generic plotline in which the lines between good and evil are not only drawn, but are often etched in stone.

Last year, Training Day came close to rising above the limitations of its genre. However, it lacked one very important element: realism. In spite of its grittiness and strikingly innovative character portrayals, it was ultimately just a Hollywoodized vision of street life, gang warfare and the undercover officers who daringly infiltrate this unstable world.

Narc succeeds in nearly all the areas in which Training Day failed, but is so far from mainstream entertainment that it risks missing out on the box office success that was ensured for the latter from the very start.

Jason Patric stars as undercover officer Nick Tellis, looking as if he has finally recovered from the unnecessary, overblown crapfest that was Speed 2: Cruise Control. Tellis acts on impulse, and the film opens with a demonstration of this very fact.

It is a stray bullet he fires into a playground that causes his 18-month suspension, when Tellis's shot misses its target and winds up in the fetus of a pregnant woman.

Back on duty, Tellis is teamed up with Henry Oak (Ray Liotta), as they must resurrect the stale investigation of a murdered undercover cop, who happens to be Oak's ex-partner.

Oak is even more unstable than he looks, and Liotta's physical transformation is almost as shocking as his character portrayal. Hiding behind a graying goatee, fiery eyes and an extra 35 pounds, Liotta deserves every bit of the Oscar buzz that he's been receiving.

Oak feels the memory of his ex-partner is being betrayed by a politically-motivated police department, whose grief over the murdered officer is merely a facade to hide their own personal agenda. Thus, he plans on finding the killer – and extracting revenge – in his own way.

Make no mistake: this movie is all about the characters. If you're looking for action, then go rent Lethal Weapon. There is certainly action – both well-shot and entertaining – but it is neither glorified nor frequent, which may turn off certain audience members.

Director Joe Carnahan is perhaps most successful in his visual depiction of the inner agonies of his two leads, as the pasts of both men are skillfully interwoven into their respective inner psyches.

Unfortunately, Carnahan has the tendency to over-direct in places – a four-way, split-screen sequence comes to mind – but not so much that it has an ill effect on the final product.

Also, Tellis's wife Audrey (Krista Bridges) has serious reservations about her husband working undercover, which leads to the typical "it's either your job or me" outburst that may cause a few eyes to roll. However, their marital problems never feel in the least bit fabricated, and it is obvious from even their most subtle interactions that the two are in love.

In the end, the film is partly successful because it never strays into parody by transforming its characters into simple caricatures. This is no buddy-cop flick, and there are no amusing contradictions between officers Tellis and Oak.

In fact, it is a little unsettling that both men are willing to unflinchingly cross the line in order to do what they feel is just. The only difference between the two is that Oak accepts his actions before he even acts, whereas Tellis often cannot.

At what extent do the law and morality contradict each other? This is just one of the questions that Narc asks.

As Oak says, "It's got nothing to do with justice and injustice, and everything to do with right and wrong."


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